For many roleplaying games, the rules and background that comes in rulebooks, boxed sets and sourcebooks only goes so far – more of that stuff is to be found in magazines, official or otherwise.
Here’s The Shop on the Borderlands countdown of the Top 10 RPG Magazines of All Time!
10. The Last Province
Something of a case of what might have been. The Last Province was independent, British, quirky, professional and tried to be what White Dwarf had been years before. Editorially it succeeded; commercially it didn’t. The early 90s was something of a low point for the hobby, and The Last Province ceased publication after only five issues. You can buy copies here.
9. The Space Gamer
The Space Gamer during its best period was Steve Jackson Games’s house magazine, but it actually started out with Steve Jackson’s previous employer Metagaming Concepts. Jackson left and took the rights to TSG with him. The magazine didn’t just cover Metagaming or SJG games, although there was a bias towards science fiction rather than fantasy or any other type of gaming, and board and miniature games were covered too. Computer gaming legend Warren Spector was the editor for several issues in the mid 80s.
The best bit of TSG was Murphy’s Rules – a comic strip illustrating absurdities in the rules of various hobby games. You can buy copies of The Space Gamer plus compilations of Murphy’s Rules here.
Challenge was to GDW what The Space Gamer was to Steve Jackson Games – a house magazine that also ran articles for other companies’ games, but kept a science fiction focus. The magazine started in 1986 and took over GDW’s previous magazine ‘The Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society’ (see number 7 below) and added other games to it – notably Twilight 2000 and then Traveller 2300. Because of this, the first issue is number 25 – because the last issue of JTAS had been 24.
Look out for the annual April Fools and Halloween editions. You can buy Challenge here.
7. The Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society
This is the first true game-specific magazine in our countdown. The game is Traveller – an RPG blessed with some really good magazines. This was the original though, and much of Traveller’s rich background first appeared in its compact pages. (Unlike most magazines, JTAS was published in a small format to fit with Traveller’s ‘little black books’ format.)
JTAS originally ran for 24 issues, after which it was merged into Challenge such that issues 25 to 36 were inserts in the middle of Challenge. However, after GDW had folded, Marc Miller’s Imperium Games published a new Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society to support Traveller 4 and rather confusingly started the numbering back at 25!
6. Other Hands / Other Minds
The only real amateur production on this list, Other Hands was an example of what a bunch of dedicated fans could do for a game – in this case MERP and other Middle-earth RPGs. It was only ever a download, but the quality of writing makes it an essential for any Middle-earth roleplayer.
Unfortunately, after ICE lost the Tolkien licence, Tolkien Enterprises cracked down on publications like this and threatened legal action, which ultimately led the magazine to close down. Thankfully, other people picked up the Ring, and out of the ashes of Other Hands was born Other Minds. If you’ve never seen it, you’ll be astonished at just how slick and professional (and big!) the later issues of Other Minds are. The most recent issue is 322 pages!
5. The Excellent Prismatic Spray
Possibly the most obscure magazine here, for a pretty obscure game. However, that isn’t going to stop me from mentioning The Excellent Prismatic Spray, a magazine devoted to The Dying Earth RPG (one of my favourite fantasy games). TEPP is, like its setting, rather verbose and rich in detail. It’s worth checking out if you play D&D too – after all, Jack Vance’s Dying Earth stories inspired both the D&D magic system and the thief class.
While Dragon was TSR’s house magazine in the US and around the world, at the time that TSR had a UK office, it was also putting out the thinner, but somewhat less respectful ‘Imagine Adventure Game Magazine’ in the mid eighties.
Very high quality writing (look out for several short stories and review columns by a very young Neil Gaiman). Understandably it concentrated on TSR games, especially D&D, but there are some issues with a focus on other games.
The big one. Dragon started in 1976, replacing TSR’s earlier ‘The Strategic Review’, moved to Paizo Publishing in 2002 (under licence) and ceased publication as a print magazine in 2007 after 359 monthly issues, but carrying on after that as online material on Wizards of the Coast’s website. Dragon is where many of the features that we now think of as essentially D&D first appeared – character classes, monsters, even the Forgotten Realms campaign setting. If you play D&D, you can find a lot of good content in its pages.
I bet you were thinking that I was going to put White Dwarf as number 1 weren’t you? Well, not quite.
However, during its golden age in the 1980s, White Dwarf was definitely the best non-game specific magazine out there. Excellent (mostly short) articles and some really good scenarios for a pretty decent range of games. And you could buy it in your local newsagents (or at least you could when they started toning down some of the cover art…) Still, by issue 100, White Dwarf had ceased to be a roleplaying games magazine and had essentially become a monthly glossy advert for Warhammer and other Games Workshop games. And I can’t quite forgive it for that, so it’s number 2, not number 1.
1. The Travellers’ Digest and The MegaTraveller Journal
So you might not have been expecting this to be number 1. But I’m going to come out and say it – there has never been a more essential RPG magazine than The Travellers’ Digest and its successor The MegaTraveller Journal. Despite being about a game published by another company (GDW’s Traveller and MegaTraveller), these two magazines were packed with great adventures and a perfect mix of ‘crunch’ and ‘fluff’ articles. Oh, and the artwork, both on the covers and inside, was uniformly excellent. The Digest was replaced by The MegaTraveller Journal, which was more of the same – only amazingly even better. Sadly, the magazine finished with issue 4, but it went out with quite a bang, devoting most of the issue to a single large campaign ‘The Lords of Thunder’ – a campaign good enough to make a top 10 of ‘Best RPG Campaigns of All Time’. Hmmm. That’s an idea for a blog article…